On June 27, 2019, a landmark court decision was released in Texas, in which a judge found the petrochemical company Formosa Plastics Corporation, liable for violating the Clean Water Act because of plastic discharge into local waters. The case was brought by a civic group based in part on citizen sensed-evidence which involved volunteer observations performed over years. This practice entailing grassroots-driven environmental monitoring could be qualified as ‘Citizen Science’ and, more specifically, ‘Citizen Sensing’. The contamination could not be proved through existing data held by competent authorities since the company never filed any record of pollution with the competent authority. Rather, the monitoring and data collection was almost entirely conducted by local residents.
Cases such as the Formosa litigation are expected to increase drastically. They pose urgent research questions. Above all, the case motivates an investigation of the potential of introducing Citizen Sensing as a source of evidence in litigation over environmental wrongdoings. Furthermore, Citizen Sensing may also play a role in avoiding the court stage, as a tool to mediate the environmental conflict and to steer the responsible company to adopt an environmentally-compliant behaviour.
Related research is still in its infancy. The few championing actors in the debate are located in the U.S., not flanked by a parallel inquiry from the European perspective. The key objective of the Sensing for Justice project is to fill this knowledge gap in order to avoid a possible scientific and legislative vacuum, and provide newly required research capacity in the EU.
The research will be hosted by the European Commission Joint Research Centre, currently leading actor in the research on Citizen Science for environmental monitoring and reporting, which will allow me to play a crucial role in the enactment of measures to release Citizen Science for litigation and mediation’s potential across the EU.
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The Sensing for Justice (SensJus) project researches the potential of grassroots-driven environmental monitoring, i.e. Citizen Sensing, as a source of evidence in environmental justice litigation, and as a tool for environmental mediation in extra-judicial setting. Our research addresses an urgent need for multi- and interdisciplinary research to understand emerging possibilities of the practice and to provide scientific evidence for decision-making in the EU. The envisaged opportunities of our idea are many, ranging from a closer connection of the affected people to environmental litigation, to a wider, more diverse and inclusive availability of evidence on critical environmental issues, to the possibility of even mitigating the conflict.
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How to participate
Research project, you can join our conversation with your insights from theory or from practice at https://sensingforjustice.webnode.it/join-our-conversation/
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From own senses to sensor technology devices
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